If the presidential debates this fall are only between President Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney, you can be sure the issue of drug policy — more specifically, cannabis law reform — will not be discussed.
To some that may not seem like a big deal, but it also means that President Obama won’t have to answer for his stance with regards to medical marijuana. It also means we will miss a golden opportunity to raise awareness for marijuana law reform. The debates aren’t as well-watched as they used to be, but they still pull in tens of millions of viewers.
So how do marijuana activists take advantage of the opportunity of the debates to bring the issue before a large audience? Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson. If Governor Johnson gets to participate in the debates, it is very likely he will be asked about his very vocal support of marijuana legalization. He will be able to tell millions of people why marijuana should be legal and how much damage prohibition is doing. He might even get a chance to take a shot at the president for his flip-flop on medical marijuana.
But Governor Johnson needs support in the polls to make the debates.
For his part, Governor Johnson has sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates, asking them to waive the restrictions on debating. “I am writing to request that the national Commission on Presidential Debates reconsider your current — and exclusionary — requirements for participation in this Fall’s all-important Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates,” he wrote.
I am well aware of the history and genesis of the Commission, including the reality that it was created largely by the respective national leadership of the Democrat and Republican Parties. While I respect and understand the intention to provide a reasonable and theoretically nonpartisan structure for the presidential debate process, I would suggest that the Commission’s founding, organization and policies are heavily skewed toward limiting the debates to the two so-called major parties.
That is unfortunate, and frankly, out of touch with the electorate. You rely very heavily on polling data to determine who may participate in your debates, yet your use of criteria that are clearly designed to limit participation to the Republican and the Democrat nominee ignore the fact that many credible polls indicate that a full one-third of the electorate do not clearly identify with either of those parties. Rather, they are independents whose voting choices are not determined by party affiliation.
So if the commission doesn’t lift the restrictions — a candidate must get 15 percent in several public opinion polls — how will independents be represented? The only answer left is that Gary Johnson needs to gain some traction in the polls.
Other than getting the word out, there is not much that can be done — unless some of the people reading this are called by a national organization to participate in a poll. In that case, even if you are still deciding, tell the pollster that you are voting for Gary Johnson. Obviously you can then vote for whoever you decide on; presidents aren’t decided by polls. But those who get to debate unfortunately are.
Telling a pollster you are voting for Gary Johnson is basically a vote for getting marijuana law reform discussed in the debates. Not only that, but you would also be standing up for many who just can’t see voting for Obama or Romney. Don’t those people deserve a voice as well?
This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.
HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at America’s failed war on drugs August 28th and September 4th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out — and join the conversation.